The idea of reunification of the two Congresses has assumed a new meaning with the Bada Dashain message of Girija Prasad Koirala, NC chieftain and Prime Minister. The octogenarian urged the NC-D cadres to merge into his faction, raising eyebrows of NC-D leader Sher Bahadur Deuba, who had been insisting on an “honourable reunification”, including an “equitable” distribution of spoils from the centre down to the grassroots. By taking such a stance, Deuba wants to retain the loyalty of his supporters. The party had split up some four years ago following the “unceremonious” expulsion of Deuba, who, as the then Prime Minister, had defied Koirala while running the government, including his recommendation to dissolve the Lower House, despite a comfortable Congress majority. This eventually allowed the King to take over power.
Koirala has made several calls for unity. But each time, the idea has aborted because of the divergent perceptions of the two factions. Couched in words, Koirala’s idea of unity has sought the return of ex-Congressites in individual capacity, whereas Deuba insists on clear criteria for the re-allocation of party posts. The way the idea had been floated by Koirala in recent weeks, leading to talks with Deuba and NC ex-president K P Bhattarai, many had expected fruition. Not to speak of the unity of the kind reflected in the birth of the CPN-UML shortly after the Jana Andolan of 1990, the reunion of Koirala’s imagination may not mean even the sort of reintegration of the Bamdev-led CPN-ML into the CPN-UML.
It is doubtful if the two Congresses will get reunited on such a basis. Rather, Koirala appears to have strengthened Deuba’s recent allegation that the former wants to hijack the NC-D cadres. If the reunion is to take place on Deuba’s terms, Koirala may have calculated that his grip on the party would diminish, and that of his proteges even more so, as, in light of Koirala’s age, the Congress will have to address the question of the handover of the party leadership pretty soon. So this kind of unity may mean, on Koirala’s reckoning, inviting back the problems that had bedevilled him for so long. On the other hand, there is the need, in Koirala’s words, for reunification to make the Congress strong enough to play a principal role in the country’s transition. Koirala has also gone on record as saying that he has two great responsibilities on hand — making the peace process successful and re-uniting the two Congresses. Both the tasks he wants to accomplish before Tihar. The crux of the problem is, on whose terms both peace and party reunification are to be achieved? Not many outside the party ranks are interested in Congress reunion, as both Koirala and Deuba are widely perceived to have been responsible for the split for personal rather than ideological reasons. But what every Nepali is keen about is whether Koirala will be able to pull off the peace. If he fails in this mission, Koirala’s stock will plummet. And likely he will have no second chance for redemption.